After Monday’s election, the only thing certain is that nothing is certain — and that despite this being the third election in less than one year.
Though his party decisively won the most votes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have jumped the gun after rejoicing over “the biggest win of my life.” Two days later, the final count showed he is still three mandates shy of being able to form a right-wing coalition government.
What’s more, it could end up that President Reuven Rivlin tasks Netanyahu to form a government on March 17, the same day Netanyahu’s criminal trial is set to begin.
Initial reports had Likud with 37 seats and their rival (but not a left wing party) Blue and White with 32. After the dust settled, it was not quite the trouncing they thought—with 99 percent of votes counted, Likud has 36, while its main rival Blue and White finished with 33. The Central Elections Committee will present Rivlin with final results on March 10.
“The consultations ahead of the granting of a mandate to form a government on a candidate will happen after the results will be clear, official and final,” the President’s Residence said.
Without a clear majority, Likud officials have started fishing for defectors to their party in order to boost the right-wing bloc. Ironically, that would mean pinching Knesset members from left-wing parties and several names have already been floated in the media.
Netanyahu has not ruled out adding parties from the center and left this time. In April, Netanyahu fell short of a 61-seat majority and failed to form a government. Then after the September elections, both Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz failed to do so forcing a third election. They both had refused to form a unity government, which would have required a shared rotation of the prime minister position.
The biggest surprise of the election was the lack of apathy at the polls. Despite being the third election in one year and despite rampant fears of coronavirus contamination, 71 percent of Israelis — including 530,000 Arabs — turned up to vote. This may have accounted for the strong showing by the Joint List of Arab parties that came in third with 15 Knesset seats, their largest win ever.
“Brothers and sisters, you have created a historic day,” party leader Ayman Odeh said. “From the first elections in 1949 until today, we have not received this degree of support and this number of seats.”
Israeli Arabs remains the freest Arabs in the Middle East. The only democracy in the Middle East, Israel allows its non-Jewish citizens to run for office and represent the Jewish state in the Israeli parliament. In fact, one of the Muslim members of the Joint List, Iman Khatib-Yassin, will be the first hijab-wearing Knesset member in Israel’s history.